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  WINDY CITY TIMES

THEATER REVIEW Roast
by Eric Karas
2019-08-06

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Author: Harry Wood

Directed by: Derek Bertelsen. At: The Comrades Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave.. Tickets: $15-20; GreenhouseTheater.org . Runs through: Aug. 18

The Comrades team is presenting Derek Bertelsen's production Roast—a play about the suicide of a young stand-up comedian and his funeral that he requested be a roast.

This roast includes his childhood friend, male friends and competitors in comedy, mentor, sister and father. The host of the roast is the serious funeral director. Each brings his/her own take on the dead man's life, his foibles and their influence in his life.

This play is billed as a comedy, but really is a drama masquerading as a comedy. There is always a problem with plays or movies about stand-up comedians in that they usually are not funny. It's hard to capture what a stand-up comedian brings to a comedy stage with his/her/their unique voice in a written piece. This play has the same problem, in that most of the jokes are not that funny—with the huge exception being the deadpan delivery of Roy Pugh's funeral director. When he has to roast the people on stage halfway through it, was laugh-out-loud funny.

On the dramatic side, the play is more successful. It really captures the frustration, anger and sadness of someone departing the world too soon because of suicide.—with each person questioning what he or she could;ve done to prevent it. The cast is really good in this aspect of the piece. A standout is Mike Newquist, as one of his comedy competitors. During the beginning of the play he is very funny, but when he has to give his roast the emotional bombing he does is really effective. John Miraglia, as the terrible absent father, has the chance to show some real acting chops in his evocative grief and regret toward the end.

Regarding production, it was really effective to have a big picture of the comedian over the casket. It gave the audience another sense of who he was, and it was not a Waiting for Godot-style mystery. The problem with the scenic design here is that you have a play with two different locations but only one stage. The actors have to change the set from one location to another. The first time this happens it's kind of fun; however, as they do it for each roaster, it becomes as exhausting for the audience—as it must be for the cast.

Overall, this play gives a good representation of grief and the odd reunion factor of all funerals or wakes.


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